Citizens, politicians discuss future of Missouri River

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Citizens and politicians spoke Tuesday night at a meeting held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to voice their concerns about the future management of the Missouri River.

The Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study (MRAPS) is part of a $25 million study to last five years. In 2009, U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., spearheaded the study in order to change the eight authorized purposes of the river, which were established in the Flood Control Act of 1944. The purposes are flood control, irrigation, water supply, recreation, navigation, hydropower, water quality and fish and wildlife.

The corps is holding 30 public meetings in 12 different states, as well as 11 meetings with Native American tribes, to discuss the river management. This was the fourth meeting and the first in Missouri.

“This is a look at the purposes that were defined in the ’44 Flood Control Act, and if any changes might be warranted due to contemporary needs and current interests of the public,” said Mark Harberg, project manager for MRAPS in Omaha, one of the cities leading the project. Kansas City is the other.

"The scoping meetings are really the basis to give us a good understanding of what the public, the taxpayers and other groups really feel are important that needs to be addressed in the study; important issues from their standpoint that we should address and analyze," Harberg said.

Navigation and river flooding were of most concern to many attendees.

“For the state of Missouri, all eight purposes are important,” said Mike Wells, deputy director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. "Navigation and flood control are the dominant purposes, and we think management of the river needs to have priority for those two purposes.”

Farmers who depend on the river for the transportation of their goods are concerned that states in the upper basin will detract from their ability to make money. If more water is diverted to the northern portions of the river, there will be less water available to allow barges to ship goods along the river.

Harry Thompson, a corn and soybean farmer and Cole County Farm Bureau president, is worried about how fertilizer prices could rise while his grain prices could fall.

Shipping along the river is the most efficient and cheapest way for Thompson to transport his goods. However, moving goods by truck subtracts from his profit $.20 per bushel of corn, which sells for about $3.25, and $.20 on soybeans that sell for $8.50-$9. It will also cost him about $20 extra per ton of fertilizer, which costs around $600.

“Farmers operate on a very small margin with a lot of variables in our operation,” Thompson said.

He said costs have been rising in the past four to five years, making it more difficult to make a profit.

“We need every opportunity we have to squeeze out a profit,” Thompson said.

Shipping goods along the river would reduce the number of trucks on the highways, lowering levels of carbon-dioxide emissions.

Lucy Fletcher, marketing manager for AGRI Services of Brunswick, said they sold 68,000 tons of fertilizer in April alone, and if they had brought the fertilizer in by truck, they would have needed 3,200 trucks to do so. The additional trucks would not only have increased pollution, but would have increased costs for both farmers and consumers.

Although those were major concerns, Wells stressed that if there’s enough water for navigation and flood control, there will be enough water for the other six purposes.

“If we lose the water that has to be released to support navigation, it impacts all these other uses,” Wells said.

U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Missouri, said at the meeting he is concerned that if the upper basin states get their way, recreation will take precedent over economics.

“There is no economist outside of some tropical island paradise who believes that the central feature of a plan to ensure the economic success of a country is to promote fun at the expense of economic development,” Bond said.

“We need jobs. We need growth. We need opportunities. That’s why I strongly oppose the premise of the study.”

The corps has only visited South Dakota and Missouri so far.

“We understand there’s significant differences in interests between some of the states, and hopefully we can do a thorough analysis of that in our study,” Harberg said.

While people are concerned about the economic uses of the river, some came because they enjoy spending time on it.

Steve Schnarr of Missouri River Relief takes people on the river for cleanups, as well as tree plantings along it.

“The river is a place I can go to just completely get immersed in nature, to get immersed with the power of the river, of the water,” Schnarr said.

Schnarr likes to use the river for recreational uses, such as canoeing, swimming and boating, but realizes the many uses for the river.

“I’m certainly concerned with where the river is going,” Schnarr said. “I’m not necessarily worried about where this process is going. I feel like there’s enough people involved that nothing study is going to happen. But it is a very complex process that involves many stakeholders and many states, and everyone needs this river.”


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